It was a typical day on the road. John had just finished delivering his last shipment for the day and was headed back to the terminal. Wondering what his wife wanted him to pick up for dinner that night, he grabbed his phone and dialed her number. After a lengthy back and forth discussion over chicken or beef, they made their decision and John assured his wife he would be home within the next hour or so. But what started as an 60 minutes turned out to be much longer.
For when John hung up from his wife, he put his phone down on his seat like he always did. While rounding a sharp turn, his cell phone slid off the seat and landed onto the floor. Reaching down to pick it up, John had no choice but to take his eyes of the road for a few seconds. Those few seconds resulted in his truck swerving into the next lane, causing a three vehicle collision.
This incident, unfortunately, happens all the time which is why it is important to know the risks of cell phone usage while driving. As John dialed his wife’s number, he did not realize that at that moment, his risk of having an accident increased by six times. As he talked to her, his concentration level decreased by 37% and ranked in at the same level as those having a blood alcohol level of 0.08. And although John managed to duck two bullets, he was not able to avoid the third fact…reaching for his phone would increase his risk of a crash by three times (Stats provided by distraction.gov).
But the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is hoping to prevent these risks from occurring through the establishment of new phone usage rules.
In 2010, the FMCSA prohibited texting for commercial drivers. Not soon later, in early 2011, the rule was extended to include intrastate HAZMAT drivers. But prohibiting just texting was found to be not enough.
Effective as of January 3rd, interstate truck drivers, as well as all HAZMAT drivers, are prohibited to use hand-held cell phones while operating their truck.
Strict penalties have been put into place to enforce the new ruling. According to www.fmcsa.dot.gov, any driver caught in violation could face a maximum fine of $2,750 with carriers who allow their drivers to operate a vehicle while using a hand-held phone facing a fine of $11,000. Those drivers issued “two or more serious traffic violations” will have their CDL suspended.
Although drivers are banned from utilizing hand-held phones while driving, the rule permits hands-free devices and single button functions.
According to Transport Topics, a driver is allowed “to reach for a phone, ‘provided the device is within the driver’s reach while he or she is in the normal seated position, with the seat belt fastened.’” The site also explains that a driver cannot make a call while temporarily stopped on the road, but can pull over to do so.
Although carriers are prohibited to allow their driver to use a cell phone while operating their vehicle, facing a hefty fine if their driver is caught in violation, they are not required to have a written policy or training program (http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/about/other/faq/cellphone-ban-faqs.aspx). As the FMCSA simply puts it, “The carrier is responsible for its drivers’ conduct.”
And many groups/individuals are not happy about it. The American Trucking Association (ATA) is seeking changes in employer liability, notes the group’s Abigail Potter. According to the ATA, “In an industry that has seen several of its unionized carriers fail in the past decade, this outright promotion of union interests is a threat to the hundreds of thousands of carriers that remain vital to the country’s economic recovery,” states an article on cvta.org.
But they are not alone. As the National Federation of Independent Businesses’ Karen Harned argues, “Just when we thought we had seen it all from the NLRB, it has reached a new low in its zeal to punish small-business owners,” (http://www.cvta.org/member-news/associate-member-news.html?start=20).
And others agree with her, noting that the rule would force shipments to be delayed and affect business since drivers would have to take additional time away to pull over every time they need to utilize the phone.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) explained that although handheld cell phones are a distraction, so are hundreds of other devices, including electronics used by drivers each day, such as the CB radio, nsc.org states.
Another big argument addresses the fact that although the FMCSA is cutting back on hand-held distractions for truck drivers, that does not account for all of the noncommercial drivers who are using these same distractions.
So far, only 9 states ban hand-held cell phone usage and 35 states prohibit texting while driving, according to the Governors Highway Safety Administration’s website.
But will prohibiting hand-held phones really make a difference? Let’s look at it this way, last year over 3,000 accidents that resulted in fatalities occurred due to a distracted driver (http://www.aaos.org/news/aaosnow/feb12/advocacy4.asp).
Take the Arkansas 16-year-old who passed away last August from a distracted driver.
The girl was walking back to her car after an accident she was involved in with a pick-up truck within a construction zone. A tractor trailer driver, who was talking on his cellular device, had dropped his phone, and as he reached down to pick it up, hit the teenager, resulting in the fatality.
Not only is the driver but the carrier being recently charged for wrongful death by the teenager’s family, even though the driver violated the carrier’s phone policy.
Do you oppose or support the new law? Should hands-free devices be prohibited as well? Do you think that carriers should face an $11,000 fine or do you believe that number is too harsh?
Finally, where do you believe the law should stop or start? What about in dash navigation and entertainment systems you need to touch and take your eyes off the road? Are they okay? List your comments below.